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To White Women: Get Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

By Kateland McKenna

I’ll get this out of the way upfront - I am a white woman. Truly, unequivocally white. I have natural red hair and blue eyes. I took the kit to receive my genealogical statistics and 70% of my lineage comes from the island of Great Britain. The other 30% is French-German. I begin this way because I want to make it clear that my intention with this op-ed is to establish that I am a white woman challenging other white women, myself included, to recognize how our feminist perspectives and practices often negatively affect women who are not white. And that the first thing we need to do to improve in this way is to not allow our discomfort to stop us from becoming better for our sisters of color.

'White feminism'. Often just referred to as 'feminism'. The 'white' is unnecessary when it is always present. Feminism has always concerned, involved, and been led by white women. Research any of the waves of feminism in U.S. history and you will find the concerns and control of white women present throughout. So, if feminism has always been in the hands of white women, and we can collectively agree that we have yet to achieve equality between the sexes, wouldn't it make sense for white women to look closely at themselves as to why that is? And to be clear, for the purposes of this discussion, we are not considering the impact of men on the lives of women. We have not reached that point yet. First, we need to look internally to resolve the divisions amongst ourselves.

A few months ago I felt a sense of this division directly and personally and in doing so had to spend some time with my own thoughts and feelings to recognize how my privilege as a white woman requires me to put in the work to reach a point where my feminism is helping rather than hurting. The shockwave caused in September by the Texas ban on abortion once cardiac activity is detected in the fetus, roughly at six weeks when few people even know that they are pregnant, led to marches for women’s reproductive rights across the country. I attended one such march in Long Beach, CA where the founder of this website, Atalie Oliva, was asked to speak. Wanting to support my friend and all women in their right to choose in regards to their own bodies, I attended the march with a galvanized feeling that grew as people shared their stories and our large group shouted “My body! My choice!” through the streets of downtown. The march led us to a stage where various individuals continued to speak. My emotions swelled and my head nodded in agreement and support of those who spoke as well as those in the crowd who could relate to the calls for action. Later, when a new speaker took the stage and I felt myself tensing up. The speaker was Afro-Latina and her words were directed specifically to white women.

Her words caused me to began thinking to myself that the language she was using was divisive. We had just been shouting out in unison and now we were hearing one voice essentially calling ‘us’ (as in the white women who made up the majority of the crowd) out. However, I also had to admit to myself that everything she was saying was true. She was right, therefore, anyone who disagreed with her would be wrong. But, I didn’t disagree with her. However, my internal reaction to what she had to say was just as harmful as if I did disagree because if I allowed it to, it would cause me to refrain from supporting her and other women of color which is just as hurtful as being in opposition of them. I could not allow my discomfort to stop me from hearing what she had to say, from supporting her and any other woman who felt the way she did, and in recognizing the privilege that the structure of human society has afforded me and thus utilizing it for the betterment of womankind.

This discomfort has been reflected on a national scale. At the end of January, a bill put forth in Florida that seeks to prohibit the state’s public schools and private businesses from making people feel "discomfort" or "guilt" based on their race, sex or national origin received its first approval by the Senate Education Committee. Additionally, a sharp increase in book ban requests has been seen across the nation on material that deals with issues of race. As these actions continue to occur I find myself becoming more and more terrified about the direction in which our country is headed and the lack of power I possess to make it stop. What I must do then is understand what control I do have and that is with my own thoughts, words, and actions. I will continue to work on becoming comfortable with the aspects of intersectional feminism that may make me feel discomfort because that is one of the main hurdles facing the female race in achieving equality amongst ourselves. It is not the responsibility of women of color to make us feel better about the unjust ways in which they are treated. I implore other white women to put in the time, consideration, and practice of clearing that hurdle themselves. And then on to the next one.

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